A mind blowing sunrise exploding with color, a clear and crisp starry night, the still water of a massive lake and the sound of silence in the wilderness; the sweet smell of incense, pine trees, the ocean, home cooking, and perfume; the warmth of a fire while reading a good book or a dose of great poetry, the rush of imagination and creativity sparked by a fantastic film or work of art, and the splendor of being lost – or found rather – in a masterful and perfectly crafted piece of music. These are all experiences that are void of confusion and abstraction. They fill the heart, mind, and soul with relief, delight, wonder, and even a sudden flash of understanding. While there is much to be said about Beauty, this reflection will speak to the importance of Beauty in the realm of evangelization and catechesis; leading others closer to Jesus.
I have to admit, growing up I did not really understand the true identity of the Church. Why is she here? What is her role in salvation history? It wasn’t until college that I read Pope Paul VI’s Evangelii Nuntiandi. In this apostolic exhortation to the church, he spelled it out for me nice and clear: “Evangelizing is in fact the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity. She exists in order to evangelize…”(Evangelii Nuntiandi, 14). The Catholic Church exists in order to Evangelize, to share the love of God with the world! That means we as Catholics are in the family business of making known the Truth of who God is and how to help others make a lifelong response of faith to Jesus. However, as we know, most people do not commit wholeheartedly to something – or someone – they don’t trust or recognize. Conversion is a deeply personal response to God at the level of the heart – as well as the intellect. Deep down, I believe people don’t just want to be convinced in their minds, they desire to be swept away through and through at the level of the heart and soul. Therefore, it becomes imperative that we as disciples expose others to the fullness of Divine Revelation in a way that captivates and engages the whole person; heart, mind, and soul. It is beauty that passes this test as a means to engage the whole person on every level of being.
In striving to articulate the nature of beauty, Dr. Dennis R. McNamara, from the Mundelein Seminary in Chicago, Illinois stated that “beauty is the clear revelation of the ontological reality of a thing.” Ontology in this sense referrers to a thing’s being, nature of existence, or reality “as known in the mind of God.” Does the way it appears match it’s ontology? Does the house manifest itself as a home? Does the very appearance of the church draw us towards God? Does the Christian live and act and love as a disciple of Jesus? In short, for something to appear beautiful, its own external design must clearly reveal it’s ontological reality. When we perceive a disconnect between a thing’s nature and appearance, our response is typically confusion and mistrust rather than certainty, love, and welcome. In this light, we see that truth, beauty, and goodness are inseparable and intimately connected to the human condition.
This is why things that are beautiful bring a sudden peace and relief to the imagination and intellect. When it comes to evangelization and catechesis, the Mystery of Christ exudes the essence of beauty. There is no disharmony; no disunity within God. Furthermore, He is not only Beautiful – He is the essence of Beauty. Any exposure to things that are truly beautiful assists man in discovering the Creator. Teachers of the faith, or Catechists, who acknowledge the importance and effectiveness of Beauty in their example and teaching win for their learners a glimpse of God’s goodness and love.
By using quality art, music, literature, and film those being catechized will find that their human condition and experience is built up and purified. Beauty illuminates the truth of who God is and who we are. Therefore, works of art have the potential to not only display the Beauty of God and His creation but also to welcome the viewer deeper into the Mystery. Through the imagination and the immediacy of sight, art helps us dwell richly in the presence of the Mystery. Great Literature – worthy of catechetical attention – engages the intellect and imagination and equips the reader with the tools needed to read Sacred Scripture. Good film draws one deeper into the human experience and illuminates the movements of the heart in an aesthetically pleasing way. Music, when created masterfully, is able to lift the soul and emotions to the heights of delight, wonder, and awe.
For what is good and of God is always beautiful. Knowing this, the Catechist is free to use anything worthy of admiration and awe in order to draw others into a loving and real encounter with God that is wonderfully familiar, pure, and clear. It is as if all things beautiful are rays of light flowing from the one true source. Catching sight of these rays always leads us back to the source. At the very moment that the source is seen it is always a mysteriously familiar light – a sense of being home – a momentary exchange of love between us and our Creator.
This blog post was written by Tim Jara, Coordinator of Middle School Youth Ministry here at St. Francis of Assisi. If you’re interested in writing a blog for St. Francis of Assisi, please contact Joseph at firstname.lastname@example.org.